HomeLes fronts écologiques / Eco-frontiers

HomeLes fronts écologiques / Eco-frontiers

Les fronts écologiques / Eco-frontiers

Entre terr(itoir)es, paysages et réseaux [Afrique du Sud, invité d'honneur] / Between land(scape), territory and networks [South Africa, invited country]

*  *  *

Published on Friday, February 27, 2009


Le thème du colloque « les "fronts écologiques", entre terr(itoir)es, paysage et réseaux » s’insère totalement dans les problématiques actuelles de recherches, théoriques et appliquées, sur le développement durable. En effet, un « front écologique » désigne un espace de faible densité de population, doté de valeurs écologiques et paysagères fortes et convoité par des acteurs aux motivations aussi variées que conflictuelles (tourisme, villégiature, protection de l’environnement, énergies alternatives, exploitation forestière etc.). Un « front écologique » est donc traversé par des enjeux multiples et systémiques qui font largement écho aux situations rencontrées aujourd’hui un peu partout dans le monde : question foncière, dynamiques territoriales, valorisation des paysages et protection de la nature et mise en réseau des espaces et des acteurs. Nous concevons donc la région d’accueil de ce colloque autant comme un lieu de débat que comme un terrain d’études et d’observations comparatives.


What are “eco-frontiers?”

The theoretical content is rooted in the idea that “ecologically-based” areas are an object of conquest and appropriation from outsiders who have different visions and actions (between them and towards local people) about the future of this particular space. These areas can be regarded as “frontier spaces” (Hohl, Tisdell, 1994; Griffiths, Robin, 1997; Dovers, Edgecombe, Guest, 2002; Malason, Zeng, Walsh, 2006) because of their specificity (unknown area, low population density, weak integration and connection of local people with the rest of the world, ecological assets, less developed territory etc.), but these areas do not coincide with “historical frontiers” or with the meaning of geographical position. These spaces are a new generation of frontiers, replaced in the current post-modern context where globalisation versus glocalisation (Ramutsindela, 2004-a; Swyngedouw, 2004), ecology, and sustainable development play a central role. Eco-frontiers are strategic spaces with regard to the future of nature resources and global change.

The references are not used here to show gaps in the literature that legitimise the use of a new notion like eco-frontier. Rather, we prefer to build our argument with articles that address the questions and issues raised in managing eco-frontiers. (Collinson, 1996; Griffiths, Robin, 1997; Zimmerer, 2000; Jacoby, 2001; Adams, Mulligan, 2003; Fall, 2005; Beinart, Hughes, 2007)

Unstable, highly coveted, and instrumentalised, “eco-frontiers” are transitory and temporary spaces characterised by unique interrelationships between different appropriations of ecological resources (conservation, extraction, etc.), strongly marked by sense of place, land conflicts, territorial games, and competing network forces. The eco-frontier is also a mental representation of nature, which sometimes does not coincide with reality (Crosby, 1986; Payne, 1996;Aubertin, 2005; Brooks, 2005).

Eco-frontiers and spatial process

Eco-frontiers are frontier areas, at different scales characterised by specific ecological dimensions and values that imply an invasive or neo-colonial process initiated by outsiders. This ‘ecological value’ is often symbolised or represented by a unique landscape bounded and opened to a vast or inaccessible wilderness, e.g., the ocean, a mountain range, a deep tropical forest (Slater, 1996), or a desert. Eco-frontiers are places of pristine biodiversity and scarce, but valuable natural resources (e.g., water, minerals, forest, local knowledge). Eco-frontiers are linked, if not included, within frontier spaces. The process of making eco-frontiers can be stated using a neologism: “eco-frontierisation.”

Consequently, different spatial parameters are attached to eco-frontiers:

- a specific scale

- a general idea of ‘blur zone’ because of unknown and moving limits and dimensions

- a gateway or bridgehead where the ‘conquest’ starts (tourism resort, nature reserve offices, mining camp, peri-urban housing etc.) that is well-linked to the rest of the country and to the world

- an unattainable (physical or mental) limit (such as sky, ocean, deep forest, underground etc.).

Also, temporal parameters are the counterpart of these spatial parameters. Indeed, the duration of the process of “eco-frontierisation” has to be distinguished from the temporality of the eco-frontier dynamic: the appropriation of ecological resources takes a long time. Thus, impacts on ecological components also vary over time. An example of these conflicts is the interplay between firm nature conservation and fast tropical forest destruction. The eco-frontier is by nature unstable and ephemeral. If and when the process of “eco-frontierisation” is accomplished, new categories of spaces are produced, drawing new borders between developed and less developed areas (mining areas and urban developments versus rural periphery) or between conserved and non-conserved territories (national parks versus rural margins). This stabilisation is sometimes fragile and contested if local people disagree with the whole process (Collinson, 1996; Honey, 1999; Compagnon, Constantin, 2000; Dovers, Edgecombe, Guest, 2002; Hilson, 2002; Fabricus, Koch, Turner et al., 2004; Ramutsindela, 2004-b). Consequently, the eco-frontier is a temporary and transitory space, which is always translated into somewhere else until the “last eco-frontier” is reached.

Eco-frontiers and game of stakeholders

Although eco-frontiers are “less developed” spaces, often rural and/or confined spaces, with low population density, they are inhabited by long-standing groups of people who are cleverly managing their environment (Brush, Stabinski, 1996). The conquest of the eco-frontier is done by outsiders (“eco-settlers,” “eco-colonisers”, “frontier people” or just tourists), whose objectives are first linked to use of the natural environment (conservationists, environmental NGO’s, mining companies, tourism developers, state planers) and to its political or financial value (Anderson, Grove, 1987; Collinson, 1996; Compagnon, Constantin, 2000; Bryant, 2002; Hilson, 2002; Ramutsindela, 2003; Guyot, 2006; Guyot, 2007). This conquest is not necessarily taking place in the field, but can be enacted remotely by “virtual eco-settlers.” As such, eco-frontiers do not really see armies of eco-settlers wishing to settle. Networking, distant control and regular (even temporary) stays can be more powerful in the long term. The eco-settlement process is achieved more and more often through networking forces.

All these “neo-colonisers” have divergent and often contradictory agendas. Of course, they do have globally scaled action in common. Their motivations are often hidden by proactive and generous discourse based on necessary improvements of the poor condition of the ‘oldest inhabitants of the place’ (so called “indigenous people” or “local communities”). Most of the time, these actions are meant to replace past racial or ethnic ideologies, especially in post-colonial or post-apartheid contexts (Cock, Koch, 1991; Rodary, Castellanet, Rossi, 2003; Giraut, Guyot, Houssay-Holzschuch, 2005). In reality, (past) racial, ethnic or class boundaries are still active within eco-frontiers but are now hidden: white, urban, rich, global, and environmentally cautious or development-orientated people; versus black, rural, poor, local people, who are environmentally captive (Guyot, 2006).

In that context, notions of “environmental racism” (Pulido, 2000) and “environmental justice” (Cutter, 1995; Khan, 2002; Turner, Wu, 2002; Ishiyama, 2003) may be useful. These outsiders use mobilise territorialisation and networking processes to achieve their goals. However, new conflicting territories and divided networking forces are clashing with land rights, land uses, and the “sense of place” of the ‘local’ people. This tends to divide them into different categories like “connected relays” (of neo-colonisers), marginalized (and potentially virulent) citizens (Neumann, 1998), or dominated masses. Eco-frontiers are consequently highly contested and politicised zones. In that regard, studies on eco-frontiers, even if they did not use that specific terminology, are totally within the realm of political ecology (Payne, 1996; Gibson, 1999; Bebbington, Batterbury, 2001; Zimmerer, Basset, 2003; Robbins, 2004; Hinchliffe, 2008).

One may say it is a reconstructed notion to explain outside processes on a particular space without paying attention to local dynamics, but, on the other hand, it highlights real facts that affect the local population (Spence, 1999). Local responses to eco-frontierisation and ‘demonstrated indigenous ability’ to adapt, slow down, or stop outside appropriation of nature resources is definitely part of this reflection (Collinson, 1996; Compagnon, Constantin, 2000; Kepe, 2008). To avoid “community,” “indigenous people,” or other overused terms we will designate local people by the term “place people:” the oldest inhabitants of a place.

Stakeholder dynamics within eco-frontiers are numerous and complicated, and they appear to be much more complex than simple antagonism described earlier between eco-settlers and place people (Western, Wright, Strum, 1994). These two categories of actors are already intertwined because of multiple games, political dynamics, and internal subtypes and they interact with many other stakeholders such as politicians, NGO’s, or tourists.

How to differentiate types of eco-frontiers?

The above discussion illustrates general patterns of eco-frontiers. Defined that way, the notion of eco-frontier is still broad and needs to be clarified by using subtypes. Indeed, differentiations need to be made with regard to all constitutive parameters of the definition: ecological value, appropriation, scale, space, time, the spatial future, different stakeholders, level of contestation, and representations. These divisions are detailed in Table 1 using different parameters. At least two possibilities exist for classifying eco-frontiers.


* The first category separates three types of eco-frontiers:

- physical: ecological appropriations

- mental: mental representations

- spiritual: ecological and spatial roots of the faith and the sacred.

Many links exist between these three types, especially through heritage processes (patrimonialisation).

* The second category also separates three types of eco-frontiers following the definitions of ecological values and appropriations:

- wilderness: nature conservation

- landscape: heritage, tourism and peri-urbanisation

- ‘extractive:’ resource extraction. Commercial agriculture may be included in this category.


We claim a holistic approach where the eco-frontier is ‘a whole’ and usually includes two of the three categories. This implies that the eco-frontier is plural and coveted by different parties for different purposes. Often, conservation, tourism, or secondary residences and primary extractive activities conflict in the same area. Some stakeholders speak on behalf of the wilderness (Cronon, 1995; Honey, 1999; Compagnon, Constantin, 2000; Rodary, Castellanet, Rossi, 2003), some on behalf of the landscape (Gunner, 2005; McGregor, 2005), and others on behalf of resource extraction (Collinson, 1996); all of these groups subscribe to a wide range of mental representations and/or spiritual motivations.

Main themes open for articles and communications:

  • Eco-frontiers in time: dynamics, temporalities and history
  • Spatial models of eco-frontiers
  • Eco-frontiers and land/scape, eco-frontiers and wilderness, eco-frontiers and natural resources
  • Territorial representations of eco-frontiers in geography, literature, arts, political sciences, religion etc.
  • Outside strategies of control versus local inhabitant’s responses
  • Land issues versus ecological and landscape values: territorialisation, networks and arrangements.
  • Boundaries and borders of eco-frontiers
  • Stakeholders, scales and networks of eco-frontiers
  • Eco-frontiers politics
  • Territorial planning of eco-frontiers
  • Post-colonial eco-frontiers
  • Racism, human hierarchy and eco-frontiers
  • Environmental resources, land uses and land rights

Mercredi 27 mai 2009

14h – Accueil des participants et inscriptions

15h - Ouverture du colloque

  • Pr. Jacques Migozzi, Doyen de la Faculté
  • Pr. Philippe Allée, Directeur Geolab
  • Dr. Sylvain Guyot, Organisateur

« Introduction : les fronts écologiques, entre représentations et processus conquérants »

18h - Vernissage de l’exposition

« L’Afrique du Sud, 15 ans de démocratie »

Elisabeth et Benoît Antheaume

Cocktail musical

 Image, reflet, miroir de l’Afrique du Sud, le mur est souvent frontière et séparation. Il se transforme en lien, lorsqu’il devient support d’expression graphique. Le mur graffité ou peint révèle à la fois les tensions de l’apartheid, célèbre la naissance de la démocratie et projette les aspirations et rêves des populations. Il est aussi vecteur de communication lorsqu’il diffuse les messages d’éducation ou de santé, et particulièrement lorsqu’il relaie les mots d’ordre de la campagne contre le sida, la « nouvelle lutte ».

Elisabeth Deliry-Antheaume, géographe et photographe, et Benoît Antheaume, directeur de recherche à l’IRD (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement) vous invitent à découvrir une sélection de photographies collectées depuis 1995 dans pratiquement toutes les villes et townships du pays qu’ils ont parcouru inlassablement. A travers leur expérience, et les témoignages qu’ils ont recueillis, c’est le processus de transformation du pays qu’ils tenteront de vous faire partager.

Ces photographies sont un bel hommage à l’Afrique du Sud, pays invité du colloque, et à ses artistes connus ou anonymes, qui sans relâche nous invitent à porter un autre regard sur les villes et la société sud-africaines.

Soirée libre

Jeudi 28 mai 2009

8h30-10h30 - Atelier Pondoland

Modérateur : Pr. William Beinart Université d’Oxford

“The contested territory”
Navy Simukonda – Mcebisi Kraai TRALSO

“The management of indigenous fishing in the Eastern Cape’s Wild coast of South Africa”
Lizile Mniki Université de Fort Hare

“Pondoland national park and the making of an environmental ideology in a South African countryside”
Dr. Thembela Kepe Université de Toronto

“Fight for land rights versus outsider’s ‘appetites’ : wild coast eco-frontier dynamics”
Dr. Julien Dellier - Dr. Sylvain Guyot Université de Limoges

10h30-11h - Pause

11h-12h30 - Atelier Wilderness

Modérateur : Dr. Eric Rouvellac Université de Limoges

“Saisir les fronts écologiques amazoniens en trois dimensions : les liens entre dynamiques horizontales et verticales”
Dr. Romain Taravella Université de Laval - Xavier Arnaud de Sartre CNRS

“Les zones cygénétiques en Afrique comme front écologique”
Maxime Michaud Université de Lyon 2

“Fronts écologiques en Alberta : protection et prédation, un aperçu canadien”
Dr. Stéphane Héritier Université de St Etienne

“La collaboration environnementale transfrontalière comme lever de l’unité alpine ?”
Dr. Lionel Laslaz Université de Savoie

12h30-14h - Déjeuner

14h-15h30 - Atelier Nature-Culture SA

Modérateur : Dr. Myriam Houssay-Holzschuch ENS LSH

“Shifting frontiers of Wildness : Renaissance and boundaries crossing the nature-culture game”
PR. Malcolm Draper Université du Kwazulu-Natal

“Civilization goes against nature : the wilderness at stake in a post-apartheid novel”
Rim Makni-Bejar Université de Paris 7

“La région florale du Cap, wilderness ou paysage ?”
Dr. Nadia Belaidi CNRS UMR PRODIG – Dr. Myriam Houssay ENS-LSH – Dr. Olivier Ninot UMR PRODIG

15h30-16h - Pause

16h-17h45 - Atelier Reconstructions et Nouvelles Appropriations

Modérateur : Pr. Christophe Beaurain Université de Limoges

“De l’effacement à la surgestion du tiers espace agro-écologique : pourquoi le saltus a-t-il disparu de la pensée agronomique moderne et pourquoi doit-il être réinvesti”
Xavier Poux – Jean-Baptiste Narcy – Blandine Ramain, AScA RGTE

“Paradoxes of landscape construction. Swedish land-care arrangements in a wider context”
Katarina Saltzman Université de Göteborg – Anders Wastfelt Université de Stockholm

“The rediscovery of the Rhone river’s waterfront : an eco-frontier in the Lyon’s historical centre ?”
Yves-François Le Lay - Pr. Anne Rivière-Honneger, Université de Lyon

“La gentrification des espaces naturels en Angleterre : après le front écologique, l’occupation ?”
Dr. Frédéric Richard Université de Limoges

“Deux cas d’émergence des fronts écologiques dans la périphérie de la ville de Mexico : enjeux fonciers et arrangements territoriaux autour de la conservation des terres rurales comme valeurs écologiques”
Dr. Lydia Blasquez-Martinez UAM-Iztapalapa

18h-19h30 – Conférence

“Back from ocean eco-frontiers : 10 years around the world on a 7,5 meters sailing boat”
Jamie Mitchell, géographe et navigateur

Soirée libre

Vendredi 29 mai 2009

9h-10h30 – Ateliers groupes thématiques

Coordinateurs :

  • Pondoland : Dr. Julien Dellier
  • Wilderness : Dr. Stéphane Héritier
  • Nature-Culture SA : Pr. Malcolm Draper
  • Reconstructions : Dr. Frédéric Richard

10h30-11h - Pause

11h-12h30 – Ateliers groupes thématiques

12h30-14h - Déjeuner

14h-15h30 – Séance plénière

Synthèses des groupes thématiques

15h30-16h – Pause

16h-17h15 – Débats conclusifs

17h30-19h30 – Forum des ONG

Quel futur pour la Wild-Coast

  • Animateurs : Dr. Benoît Antheaume - Dr. Sylvain Guyot - Dr. Julien Dellier
  • Participants : Pr. William Beinart - Dr. Thembela Kepe - Lizile Mniki - Navy Simunkonda

Soirée libre

Samedi 30 Mai 2009

9h – Départ pour la journée d’excursion

Le plateau de Millevaches, un front écologique à l’échelle du Limousin

10h - Rencontre avec des acteurs institutionnels du plateau de Millevaches

12h – Déjeuner à l’Atelier, Royère de Vassivière

lieu de vie, de rencontres et d'initiatives mêlant café restaurant, épicerie, manifestations culturelles et festives, bibliothèque, pépinière de projets…

15h – Rencontre avec des acteurs institutionnels du plateau de Millevaches

18h – retour sur Limoges

Soirée Libre

Contact :

Danièle Bierne - Service recherche colloques

Daniele.bierne@unilim.fr – 05 55 43 56 36

Colloque international de géographie politique de l’environnement
Les « fronts écologiques » entre terr(itoir)es, paysage et réseaux
Land(scape), Territories and Networks of Eco-frontiers
Invité d’honneur : l’Afrique du Sud

27-30 mai 2009

Organisation :

Sylvain Guyot, Julien Dellier

Faculté des Lettres et des Sciences Humaines


  • Campus Vanteaux, Faculté des Lettres et Sciences Humaines, Université de Limoges
    Limoges, France


  • Wednesday, May 27, 2009
  • Thursday, May 28, 2009
  • Friday, May 29, 2009
  • Saturday, May 30, 2009


  • eco-frontier, front écologique, territoire, réseau, terre, paysage, Afrique du Sud, South Africa


  • Julien Dellier
    courriel : julien [dot] dellier [at] unilim [dot] fr

Information source

  • Sylvain Guyot
    courriel : sguyot76 [at] yahoo [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Les fronts écologiques / Eco-frontiers », Conference, symposium, Calenda, Published on Friday, February 27, 2009, https://doi.org/10.58079/dpx

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